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Cuban Music Lesson: La Rumba


Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.

When you think of the rumba, the first thing that comes to mind are images of has-beens doing competitive ballroom dancing on Dancing With The Stars. That crap is not real rumba. Not by a long shot. The Roomba vacuum cleaner is closer to real rumba than what you see on TV. Look at the video below and tell us if Kate Gosselin could do that?

When you search for the roots of Cuban music, it basically comes from two sources: Spanish and African. Most of the Africans that were brought to Cuba as slaves were of the Yoruba people from West Africa. The Yoruba continued to worship the Orishas, their gods, in Cuba. They dressed the Orishas up as Catholic saints so that their masters wouldn’t go all Spanish Inquisition on them. This gave birth to Santeria. Why is this important? The drums are an integral part of a bembé, or ritual honoring a particular Orisha. Over time these African ritual drums melded together with Spanish balladeering, which gave birth to the rumba.

Rumba is very simple. You have a few guys playing congas, bongos, claves (the sticks), and a sensero (more cowbell please!). The lyrics to the song are usually improvised by the singer. The audience sings along with a repetitive chorus. It can be sung in either Spanish, Yoruba or both. Like all Cuban music, rumba has a particular style of dance associated with it. Check out the video below to get the basic steps.

The rumba’s popularity has never waned in Cuba. If you walk around Havana, Matanzas, or Santiago today, you’ll randomly hear people playing it. They’ll invite all their friends over and cram into a courtyard to listen. Bottles of cheap rum are popped upen, girls in tight shirts show up ,and all of a sudden you have a kicking party in your hands, brother. After all,  rumba is the Yoruba word for party.

If watching these videos doesn’t make you shake what yo’ mama gave you, then you are probably a little bit dead inside.

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